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Volleyball players, from left, Brianna Grossman, 17, of Brentwood, Lasandra Rivas, 15, of Oakley, and Rachel Backlund, 16, of Antioch, all have youth diabetes and maintain a high health regimen in order to play the sport in Antioch, Calif., on Friday, June 28, 2013. The three were working out at the Antioch Indoor Sports Complex. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

On the surface, they're typical teens. They like to hang with friends, love sports and are close to their families.

This particular trio also carries the burden of juvenile diabetes.

But, Rachel Backlund, Brianna Grossman and Lesandra Rivas are much more interested in being tough players than sick girls.

All three play for the local Uncommon Synergy Volleyball club, and its co-director is one of their biggest fans.

"I am in awe at what they have accomplished," said coach Tina Briggs. "All three of them play volleyball, achieve well in school and are cheerful, fun girls. They handle their challenge with grace and poise, never complaining or creating drama. Diabetes is a fact of life for them."

Volleyball players, from left, Brianna Grossman, 17, of Brentwood, Lasandra Rivas, 15, of Oakley, and Rachel Backlund, 16, of Antioch, all have youth
Volleyball players, from left, Brianna Grossman, 17, of Brentwood, Lasandra Rivas, 15, of Oakley, and Rachel Backlund, 16, of Antioch, all have youth diabetes and maintain a high health regimen in order to play the sport in Antioch, Calif., on Friday, June 28, 2013. The three were working out at the Antioch Indoor Sports Complex. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

Briggs is clearly inspired by this mighty group. "It would be easy for them to sit back and feel sorry for themselves. They do the opposite. They work hard on the court and push the limits, physically."

Here's a quick snapshot of how the girls, and their families, have lived with Type 1 diabetes, which affects about 1 in every 400 children and adolescents.

Rachel Backlund

The 16-year-old has dealt with the disease since she was 9.

"Managing diabetes is a huge responsibility for a child," said her mother, Lisa. "It takes time and effort. While Rachel was always aware that she had diabetes, she did not let diabetes define her or prevent her from doing the things she wanted to do."

A week after the diagnosis, "Rachel resumed playing on her softball and swim teams, and played soccer that following fall. She has continued to play on sports teams ever since" despite the preparation it requires with testing blood sugar and the like. "We are very proud of her accomplishments."

Rachel, a junior at Antioch's Dozier-Libbey Medical High School, tries to take it all in stride.

"To me, diabetes is just an obstacle that will always be a part of my life," she said. "Diabetes makes it immensely more difficult to play a sport. Not only do I have to pay attention to the game, but I also have to worry about how my activity levels might be affecting my playing abilities. I also have to know how my blood sugar fluctuations may affect my play."

As far as being a role model, she said, "When I was first diagnosed and starting sports again, I looked to professional athletes with this disease as my role models. (So), if someone were to think of me as a role model, I would be honored."

Brianna Grossman

The Liberty High senior was in third grade when she received her diagnosis, and mom Carrie Nash said the beginning was tough.

"She stopped getting invited to sleepovers because parents were afraid of something going wrong," Nash said.

Soon after, dressed in his firefighter gear, Brianna's stepfather lead a school discussion with staff, students and parents about the illness and how they could help.

"After that, stuff went pretty smoothly. Kids seemed more interested than afraid," Nash said.

Early on, the family got involved in Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Diabetic Youth Foundation camps and events, with sports continuing to be a part of her life.

"Brianna is resilient. She's had (coaches) tell her not to play ... I cry every time someone tells her she can't do something because of her diabetes. She just works harder and keeps moving ahead. She amazes and inspires," Nash said.

The self-aware 17-year-old knows diabetes is a challenge.

"The stress of school and being a teen makes it more difficult to keep levels under control," Brianna said. "I even had to go through a big ordeal and sit before a medical review board to get my driver's license."

But even if a cure was found, Brianna said, "I would not take it. It's part of who I am. In some ways it makes me special and more determined to achieve the things I want."

Part of her juggling act includes coaching. "Kids love to watch me check my sugar and give insulin. I tell them it's nothing -- everyone has a challenge and diabetes is mine."

As a member of the children's congress and youth ambassador for Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, she helps other children, too.

"I go to the hospital when kids first get diagnosed and talk to them about what to expect. I also get to speak to get grant money for more research," she said.

Lesandra Rivas

Lesandra's mom, Liz, said the diagnosis in 2010 altered her daughter's and the rest of the family's lifestyle.

"We changed our eating habits, visiting friends and avoiding parties, which made it easy for us to deny her any sweets."

But soon, with encouragement from friends and a supportive staff at Delta Vista Middle School, Lesandra learned to how to control and manage her diabetes.

She had to adjust, but never wanted to give up playing volleyball.

After three years, and some challenges, Rivas said she is proud of her daughter and envies her strength.

"It is a battle that she has to fight every single day, but she always manages to overcome them with a smile. She is definitely a fighter. I am sometimes blown away by how well she deals with her diabetes on top of being in high school."

Lesandra doesn't stress much about her disease. "I can control it and am not going to allow it to control me. It is part of who I am."

The 15-year-old Freedom High sophomore said diabetes doesn't challenge her ability to play volleyball well but, instead, "makes me more responsible."

She takes her responsibility with the disease to heart. She shared a story about a newly diagnosed boy, who was crying and scared. Nurses asked her to talk to him and his parents about her experiences.

"It was hard to see the little boy in tears, but I was proud of myself that I was able to help him and comfort him through this difficult time."

Coach Briggs gives special kudos to their families, who are "supportive and realistic. (They) work hard to make sure the teens are balanced and grounded. They support without babying the girls. They are great examples to all families of kids with diabetes."

Even without the shadow of diabetes, Briggs added, this trio is outstanding.

"All three are high-quality kids. They have bright smiles and a good attitude toward life. All three are respectful and helpful kids. I enjoy them."

Contact Trine Gallegos at trineg@att.net.

MORE INFO
For more about juvenile diabetes, visit www.jdrf.org and www.diabetes.org. For more information on the volleyball club, visit www.iplayvbleague.com.